SOUTH ORANGE,NJ - JESPY House, a non-profit organization in South Orange that works to advance independence among adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), recently held a two-day symposium, “Aging in Place: Innovative Strategies to Support Adults with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities," at the South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC).

According to event organizers, the symposium featured a "who’s who of professionals in the field," who educated service providers and families about important issues facing those with I/DD as they age, including how to best support their clients and loved ones.

Among the topics highlighted were access to health care and social services; tackling abuse and neglect; and the importance of home safety modifications. The symposium drew more than 125 people from ten states, including social workers, support agency representatives, parents, and siblings, stated event organizers. 

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“Our clients are presented with age-related challenges decades earlier than the traditional population,” said Audrey Winkler, executive director of JESPY House. “Physical aging, osteoporosis, arthritis, diabetes, all of the age-related challenges that we typically see in the population, we see it earlier and we have 100 clients that are in that situation.”

Event organizers shared that the symposium is the first of its kind in the Northeast, and that it is vital because the number of adults with I/DD is expected to double by 2030, while their life expectancy will be longer.

Day One’s keynote speakers were Tamar Heller, PhD, and Lawrence T. Force, PhD. Heller, who heads the University of Illinois-Chicago Department of Disability and Human Development, discussed the need for bridging aging and disability. “I like the notion of interdependence instead of independence,” she said. “It’s being able to voice what you want instead of being left alone to do it yourself.”

Areas that Heller cited as priorities are age-related conditions, generic vs specialized care, client support, transportation assistance, and end of life care.

Force, a gerontologist and director of the Center on Aging and Disability at Mount Saint Mary College, discussed some of the latest innovations in services for adults with dementia. He encouraged audience engagement while outlining the importance of identifying services to families. He gave a brief history of the work done by professionals in the field and stressed aging with dignity, not aging in isolation.

Rosalie Cepedes, LCSW, and Sherry Scucci-Hamilton, LCSW, leaders of the JESPY House Clinical Team, spoke about the prevalence of anxiety and depression among older adults and presented case histories.

Highlights that capped the day were a screening of the documentary short film titled Possibility: The Space Between Limits and a networking reception that included comments by Marsha Atkind, executive director of The Healthcare Foundation of NJ (a lead sponsor of the event), and South Orange Village Trustee, Deborah Davis Ford.

On Day Two of “Aging in Place,” disability policy was front and center on the minds of attendees. Discussing the topic was Keynote Speaker Michelle Putnam, PhD, who is the associate professor and associate dean for research at Simmons College School of Social Work in Boston, MA.

The second Keynote Speaker, Caitlyn Coyle, PhD, introduced the need for an inclusive approach to building age-friendly communities. Coyle is a research fellow and assistant professor of gerontology at the University of Massachusetts-Boston.

“Like other aging Americans, people with I/DD may need higher levels of support to enable them to live full, active and healthy lives in their communities as independently and for as long as possible,” said Tara Roberts, JESPY’s marketing and community relations supervisor.

JESPY House serves 250 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities ranging in age from 18 to 70. JESPY is proud to be celebrating its 40th Anniversary and would like to thank all event sponsors. To learn more, visit www.jespyhouse.org.